It appears that the PR industry has now successfully managed to become a measurable part of the sales process.
After all, what sales person wouldn’t want to prove to a buyer that the market for their product already exists? No more of those annoying “We’ll take a few – just to see how it sells..” conversations.
This article started out life as a way of proving that ‘Influencers’ in ‘Influencer marketing’ are nothing more than modern day pitchmen.
But I stand corrected. They are way more than pitchmen and women. In fact they are as close as you can possibly get to the PR industry being able to have considerable ownership of a company’s sales process.
Game on for the PR industry, eh?
Influencer marketing is peer-to-peer selling in the digital age and it all hinges on the term ‘authenticity’. If it’s not authentic, then it’s not going to influence anyone.
These influencers have spent a lot of time building their audience, like any publisher or broadcaster would. They speak in terms their audience understands, they do things that their audience likes to do, or wants to do and their audience is the measure of their value to brands.
But like any nascent industry, it is still figuring out what it wants to be. And on the other side of the coin, there are plenty of marketing and communications professionals and trade bodies that are trying to work out what role they can play as influencer marketing steps into the big league.
So let’s break the concept of influencer marketing down to its basic function. A person – let’s call him Chad – develops a fascination for playing computer games. Chad is really rather good at it and occasionally, he posts his skills online on, say YouTube and Instagram. Over time, Chad develops a small following. They converse with Chad, who shares tips, tricks and hints and perhaps even gets small favours given to him by the games publisher, like a free studio tour, or pressing some flesh with the stars, which makes Chad aspirational to his followers. Chad is now what you might call a micro influencer.
Let’s follow this rabbit down the hole…
Chad’s reviews and posts begin to get a lot of engagement because he is authentic and relatable. His followers like the cut of his jib and they tell their friends etcetera and before Chad knows it, his audience has grown from 5,000 followers to 50,000. Now Chad is heading into the big league. Other brands associated with Chad’s lifestyle want to get on board. Here comes Pizza Hut which wants to send their products for his games nights, they even want Chad to host a show at one of their outlets and they’re prepared to pay for this. Now Chad is a macro influencer. He’s a bit too busy to engage with all of his followers but he’s still authentic, just not quite as relateable.
According to the highly knowledgeable Isobel Arrowsmith at the Public Relations and Communications Association (or PRCA), what has happened is inevitable for any hard-working influencer. Chad’s engagement rate has dropped from an industry average of 5.8% as a micro influencer, to 0.5% as a macro influencer but that’s not a problem because Chad’s 0.5% is still a huge number of potential customers for any brand.
In fact, when you consider some macro influencers have around 200,000 followers, it’s a massive number of potential purchases of whatever product they are promoting – just off one tweet, or video. In summary, micro influencers are ‘in reach’, more kind of boy or girl next door, while macro influencers are celebrities.
And it’s important that – to maintain credibility and authenticity, a micro influencer like Chad lets his audience know that he’s promoting products: “The public needs to be more informed about the transactional nature of influencer marketing,” says Isobel “Because in recent research, 80% of business leaders said they would like to get to know about products through articles or someone they know.” It’s like, we don’t mind if someone we admire is selling something we might like but just be open and honest about it.
According to a recent survey by social influencer platform Takumi, who polled over 4,000 consumers, marketers and influencers in the UK, US and Germany, 86% said they trust influencers to do the job.
62% of influencers say they have been pressured by brands to breach regulatory ad guidelines at least once.
1/5 of consumers trust influencer recommendations, more than their friends, however, they still lose trust easily. The top reasons for unfollowing influencers are: disingenuous endorsements (72%); promotion of unrealistic/unsuitable lifestyle or body images (69%); misrepresentation of lifestyle or character (69%), and discovering the purchase of fake followers (68%).
As we can see, there are many pitfalls and potential problems associated with developing an influencer marketing campaign but fear not, there are also highly skilled agencies out there to manage the process.
Dan Lambden heads up the campaign planning department of Red Consultancy, a highly accomplished PR agency that happens to be one of the leaders in the field of influencer marketing. Dan says that because the industry is still in its infancy, there are a lot of grey areas in the rules, but an experienced agency like Red can call on its broadcast experience to help keep things under control.
“We are incredibly strict with ensuring our influencer partners follow the ASA guidelines and ensure they are appropriate. More importantly, that their follower data reflects the audience we wish to communicate with,” says Dan. Most established influencers actually have agents that manage contracts and keep user and audience statistics on hand, to help brands identify the appropriate ambassador.
But the function, management and creation of successful influencer campaigns goes right to the heart of the PR function. Essentially, influencers aren’t paid-for billboards, nor are they there to follow a creative ad-agency brief. They have needs and nuances, which Dan says puts them in the PR wheelhouse: “ PR agencies have the traditional comms and media liaison skills needed for working with multiple influencer stakeholders at one time. Influencer outreach is a natural evolution and extension of media relations. Plus, we always have an earned media approach first, helping drive costs down!”
So why should you consider launching an influencer campaign?
- Awareness building?
- Shifting boxes?
- Driving traffic?
In fact influencers can be used to help with all of the above but we do need to remind ourselves what all of the above are trying to do, which is sell.
Influencers can be especially useful when it comes to creating hype for products, pre-launch. They can create FOMO with audiences with a first look or a test drive and they can also be used to point out the benefits to their particular community, meaning you can achieve highly relevant promotions to vertical markets.
If you’re still thinking of embarking upon an influencer campaign, then Dan at Red Consultancy has his top 6 tips for you:
1. Create a strategy based on a set objective. Never put the cart before the horse. Never draw up an influencer marketing strategy without previously determining the objectives and how you plan to measure them.
2. Have an audience-first approach. It doesn’t matter what you say if you’re speaking to the wrong audience. Define your audience, then use this clear definition as a filter and criteria for who should and shouldn’t, be considered for a collaboration.
3. Use tools or agency partners to help. At Red Consultancy we use tools like audiense and Pulsar to find online audiences for our clients and then identify the key influencers within those networks. Alternatively, if you’re looking for help on scale, a social influencer platform like Takumi or Relatable can help find exactly the right people for your marketing campaign from their network of vetted creators.
If you’re unable to use tools or an agency partner, before agreeing to work with an influencer request their audience breakdown data. Ensure you have info on the engagement rate (more followers does not mean better results!), gender split, age breakdown and nationality/geography of their followers. We often find influencers have huge follower numbers, but from other countries, which if you’re working on a UK launch will be wastage.
4. Make sure you’re not just looking at the numbers. It’s crucial to look at the type of content influencers create, plus the types of comments they receive on their content. Always align your selection with your set objective. You may choose a different creator depending on if you’re looking for mass awareness or if you’re looking for the audience opinion and therefore content of comments would be key.
5. Respect the rules. When a brand rewards an influencer with a payment, free gift, or other perk, any resulting posts become subject to consumer protection law. When a brand also has control over the content, they become subject to the UK Advertising Code as well. Make sure you’re fully up to date on the correct guidelines. You can read more here: https://www.asa.org.uk/news/new-guidance-launched-for-social-influencers.html
6. Be creative. Influencers are creators. Putting content out into the world is at the heart of what they do and they know their audience and what works for them better than anyone else. So brief them and work WITH them to create incredible outputs. And don’t forget, creators come in all shapes and sizes with a huge variety of passion points and interests. They are photographers, directors, writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, stylists, chefs, athletes and crafters. If not a combination of all the above.
Also don’t forget they are probably your consumers too. So use their skills, enthusiasm and passion to authentically celebrate your brand.
In this era of influencer commerce, it’s crucial that like any channel to market, you have all the bases covered. Don’t engage in it lightly; have a plan, talk to some experts and do your due diligence. Moreover, after counselling some of my industry sources, it appears that today’s CMO needs to treat an influencer campaign with an approach that’s rooted more in public relations than advertising, which requires a different mind-set.
Influencers can be a wonderful addition to your sales and marketing plan but they won’t achieve the results you need on their own – unless you are exceptionally lucky.